Thursday, September 23, 2010
Let's talk about sex
Last Sunday morning’s talk was on sex. Andy, the speaker that morning, certainly had everyone’s attention. (How can my next Sunday’s sermon – on the epistle to the Romans – possibly compete?)
Of course, speak about sex and attention is pretty much guaranteed. The advertisers are onto that one: Andy himself mentioned the fact that on the road between his house and the church we were sitting in listening to him, there were at least two billboards using sex to market their products.
Another reason Andy held our attention that morning was, quite frankly, that he’s a marvellous speaker: clear, engaging, an apt analogy or memorable story to illustrate every point.
He didn’t pull his punches, either, as he took us on a trenchant tour of the New Testament’s teaching on sex and sexual purity. “Log fires are nice,” he said. “But light one in the middle of the lounge and you’re in trouble. Sex has its proper place too; it’s called marriage.”
“Keeping 'two chevrons apart' avoids crashes on the motorway,” he pointed out, “which is a good rule for male-female friendships in the church too.”
But there was another, much more unusual reason why Andy’s talk carried such impact, I believe, and it was this: Andy is celibate.
I don’t mean just ‘not-yet-married’; Andy, along with a couple of hundred others in the Jesus Army has made a lifelong commitment to remain unmarried in order to be freer to serve Jesus and love people. Do the adding-up. Yep: that means no sex at all for Andy – ever. For life.
This, curiously, gave him much more moral authority with which to say, to a hall full of people, that they ought to be sexually self-controlled. Think about it. If he’d been sitting there with his “lovely wife” on the platform (the kind that many American evangelical pastors seem to have beside them in the photograph on the back cover of their umpteen books), one might have been tempted to say, “Easy for you to stand there talking about self-control; what about those of us who aren’t cosily married like you?”
It occurred to me that very pillars of the New Testament that Andy was quoting were celibate, too. Jesus. Paul.
Not, of course, that married people can’t or shouldn’t address the topic. The New Testament gives us married Peter’s teaching about sexual conduct, too. Nor is celibacy a guarantee of purity, as the recent tragic revelations regarding Catholic priests have shown all-too-graphically.
Yet Andy, like many others I know (and like many, many thousands of Catholic priests and religious, by the way) is a sign of hope. He is a celibate for the right reasons: he loves people; he loves Jesus.
And his celibacy means he brings a moral and prophetic clarity to the sexual conversation.
We need it. Because all of us – married, single, celibate, engaged, attached, attracted, alone – are called to the same high vocation: to honour God with our bodies.